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Tag Archive: Public Sector Credit Solutions

OpenGov Voices: PDF Liberation Hackathon – At Sunlight in DC, SF and Around the World – January 17-19, 2014

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Marc JoffeSunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Marc Joffe is the founder of Public Sector Credit Solutions (PSCS), which applies open data and analytics to rating government bonds. Before starting PSCS, Marc was a Senior Director at Moody’s Analytics. You can contact him at marc@publicsectorcredit.org. Marc is also one of the winners of Sunlight Foundation’s OpenGov Grants.

Extracting useful information from PDFs is a problem as old as … PDFs. Too often, we focus on extracting information from a specific set of documents instead of looking at the bigger picture. If you’ve ever struggled with this problem, join us for Sunlight’s PDF Liberation Hackathon, dedicated to improving open source tools for PDF extraction.

Instead of focusing on one set of documents, coders will come together to add features, extensions and plugins to existing PDF extraction frameworks, making them more flexible, useful and sustainable. Sunlight’s PDF Liberation Hackathon will tackle real-world PDF data extraction problems. In doing so, we will build upon existing open-source PDF extraction solutions such as Tabula and Ashima’s PDF Table Extractor. ( A full list of PDF extraction technologies relevant to the hackathon can be found on our resource page here.) In addition, hackers will have the option of using licensed PDF software libraries as long as the implementation cost of these libraries is less than $1,000. If you have an idea for a library you want to use, please mention it in your signup form and we will try to work out the licensing ahead of time so that things run smoothly.

Register now to attend the PDF Liberation Hackathon!

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OpenGov Voices: A Transparent Approach to Understanding Local Government Debt

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Joffe_Headshot_1Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Marc Joffe is the founder of Public Sector Credit Solutions (PSCS) which applies open data and analytics to rating government bonds. Before starting PSCS, Marc was a Senior Director at Moody’s Analytics. You can contact him at marc@publicsectorcredit.org. Marc is also one of the winners of Sunlight Foundation’s OpenGov Grants.

High profile bankruptcy filings by Detroit and other cities, along with concerns about public employee pensions, are increasing borrowing costs for state and local governments. Higher interest payments to bondholders mean higher taxes and fewer services. However, with transparent data and analytics, local government bonds can get reasonable interest rates -- as this post will illustrate.

Over the last 70 years, municipal bond defaults have been rare. In a typical year, no more than one in 1,000 municipalities fail to make timely payments on their tax supported debt. Also, interest on municipal bonds is exempt from federal income taxes and usually free of state income taxes as well.

Because of their low risk and favorable tax treatment, municipal bonds have typically yielded less than US Treasury bonds – making it easy for states, cities, counties and school districts to finance new infrastructure. Time series data available from the Federal Reserve (a portion of which is depicted in the accompanying graph) show that yields on “munis” were lower than Treasuries from 1953 until the 2008 financial crisis. This discount returned briefly in 2010, but since Meredith Whitney predicted a wave of municipal bond defaults on 60 Minutes in December 2010, muni yields have exceeded Treasury yields – often by substantial margins.

Municipal and Treasury data

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OpenGov Voices: Local Government Financial Transparency: Scaling It Up

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Joffe_Headshot_1Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Marc Joffe is the founder of Public Sector Credit Solutions (PSCS) which applies open data and analytics to rating government bonds. Before starting PSCS, Marc was a Senior Director at Moody’s Analytics. You can contact him at marc@publicsectorcredit.org.

Groups like OpenOakland and Open City have done some great work in making local government financial data more accessible. Machine readable data sets and visualizations help citizens better understand how their tax money is being used.

Because these efforts typically require volunteers and/or visionary political leaders, they tend to focus on individual governmental units. Since the U.S. has some 80,000 local governments, it is unlikely that these standalone projects will give us anything like nationwide transparency of local government fiscal data. Building a nationwide open data set would be very beneficial because it would allow users to compare their city or county to comparable units across the country. It could answer such questions as “how does our public safety spending stack up against other cities with similar population and crime rate?” It could also allow us to compare the fiscal condition of cities in order to see which are headed in the direction of Detroit, Harrisburg, San Bernardino and Stockton – toward bankruptcy.

ca_credit_scoring_mapA Mountain View California based company, OpenGov.com, is working with several local governments to place their fiscal data online, in graphical form. If successful, this firm could greatly increase the amount of open government financial data – for those governments that are willing to subscribe to their transparency service.

But what about situations in which a local government is unwilling to cooperate and volunteers are unavailable? This universe is likely to include some of the more fiscally irresponsible governments in places that lack tech-savvy, engaged citizens.

In these cases, we can collect and report data on behalf of those governments. Recently, my group, Public Sector Credit Solutions, collected legally mandated financial reports from 260 city governments in California. We extracted standardized data from these reports and placed the information online for free here. We’d love to work with other groups to roll out this type of fiscal transparency to other types of local governments (like counties and regional transportation districts) and to the rest of the country.

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